Thailand backs off threat to block Facebook over content

Thailand backed off a threat to block Facebook on Tuesday, instead providing the social media site with court orders to remove content that the government deems illegal.

Thailand made the threat last week as it wanted Facebook to block more than 130 posts it considers a threat to national security or in violation of the country's lese majeste law, which makes insults to the monarchy punishable by up to 15 years in prison. Thailand's military government has made prosecuting royal insults a priority since seizing power in a coup three years ago.

Takorn Tantasith, secretary-general of Thailand's broadcast regulator, said Facebook had requested the court orders before it would take action but he expected the social media giant would comply with the government's demands.

"Facebook has already responded that it will comply when we have court orders," Takorn told reporters.

Emails and calls seeking confirmation from Facebook were not immediately returned.

Last week, the regulator demanded that Facebook remove more than 130 posts by Tuesday or face legal action that could shut down the site. In a change of tactic, Takorn said that Thailand had forwarded 34 court orders to Facebook so far.

"The websites that need to be taken down are not only those that are a threat to stability but they also include other illegal websites such as porn and websites that support human-trafficking which take time to legally determine," Takorn said.

Reports about the Facebook restrictions were blocked on BBC World News in Thailand on Tuesday.

Thai authorities try to take pre-emptive actions against material they consider illegal, having local internet service providers block access or reaching agreements with some online services such as YouTube to bar access to certain material in Thailand.

Much of that is content deemed in violation of the country's lese majeste law, the harshest in the world. The military government has charged more than 100 people with such offenses since the coup and handed down record sentences. Many of those cases have been based on internet postings or even private messages exchanged on Facebook.

Last month, Thai authorities declared it illegal to exchange information on the internet with three prominent government critics who often write about the country's monarchy.

Facebook, which is blocked in a number of authoritarian countries such as North Korea, has said it relies on local governments to notify the site of information it deems illegal.

"If, after careful legal review, we find that the content is illegal under local law we restrict it as appropriate and report the restriction in our Government Request Report," Facebook has said in past statements outlining its policy.